Christianity Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for committed Christians, experts in Christianity and those interested in learning more. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I was reading a book which made me wonder whether the true message of Jesus has been faithfully passed down to this age. I would like to know whether the Gospels have been preserved textually and linguistically like what the disciples of Jesus would be hearing at the time of Jesus?

I read that there is an Aramaic gospel but is it a translation of the Greek/Hebrew manuscripts or the original Aramaic wordings used by Jesus?

I assume that Gospel would mean sayings of Jesus, are these sayings preserved?

share|improve this question

closed as primarily opinion-based by Nathaniel, curiousdannii, Lee Woofenden, Flimzy, Matt Gutting Jun 27 at 16:21

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

This question goes part way to explain: Were the Gospels considered Scripture when the rest of the New Testament was written? – Mr. Mr. Jun 18 '13 at 7:51
I think this can help you What is "Manuscript Evidence" and how is it useful? – OnesimusUnbound Jun 18 '13 at 8:42
May I know why the link to the book from a Bible Scholar was removed? – JesusBoughtIslam Jun 18 '13 at 12:37
@NotMyWill-butGodsWillBedone but GodsWillBe done: Perhaps because it's not relevant to us answering your question. It's just your typical propaganda. – Simply a Christian Jun 18 '13 at 15:49
The written Gospel didn't even exist at the time of Jesus, so how could it have been preserved? – Flimzy Jan 5 '15 at 23:44
up vote -2 down vote accepted

The Gospels were written long after the crucifixion by writers who could not understand the Syrian Aramaic dialect of Jesus. One of the Church Fathers referred to an Aramaic gospel of Matthew, but from his quotes we can see that it is different to the Greek version that is common today. There is a 5th. cent. Aramaic OT (the original is in the British Museum,) and there is a modern Aramaic Bible which includes a NT, which is claimed to have descended directly from the Aramaic writings of the 1st. cent, and as close to what Jesus said as possible. Most scholars believe it to be a translation of the Church's Greek Gospels of the 2nd. cent. The Words of Jesus are as important as the "Word of God" of the OT.

Jesus trained people to be like Him. What is recorded in the NT are words to remind the teachers how they are to train converts. As long as the training is done correctly, then the words attributed to Jesus in any translation are useful.

share|improve this answer

Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

+1 Agree totally on the point that Jesus was training people to be like Him. – Mr. Mr. Jun 18 '13 at 12:58
What evidence is there that the gospel writers did not understand the dialect Jesus spoke? – curiousdannii Jun 1 '14 at 23:47
By "long after" you mean less than 20 years. – Affable Geek Jul 20 '14 at 13:28

This is going to sound strange, but the doctrine of preservation actually says it doesn't matter if every word was exactly preserved - what we have is what is important.

As one example, there are five "variants" of the original Gettysburg Address. The text that I memorized in elementary school was actually drawn in part from each of these. I have no doubt that there are minor variations in what I memorized from what Mr. Lincoln actually said - but that's okay, because the primary points are still conveyed, and we take solace in that.

Many Christians subscribe to a doctrine of preservation that allows for this. Preservation says that the Words God intended us to have have been delivered to us. If, in fact, Jesus actually did say, "Blessed are the Cheesemakers", it doesn't matter - as a matter of Scripture, God intended that we hear "Blessed are the peacemakers" in every subsequent generation. All manner of maker of dairy products would have been cheered at the Mount, but that God desired his Children to be makers of peace was heard throughout the ages.

When Hebrews says, "In these last days He spoke through His Son," and when John says that Jesus was the Word, we understand that God was speaking. Whether those words were vocal or written is of no particular concern. Indeed, when God spoke and the world were created, we don't even know the words (or the language) He used. But, we know what we need to know.

The concern really should be, did men twist and pervert the words God would have had for us. Seeing as we have manuscript evidence that dates to within a generation, the Christian Bible's authenticity well surpasses that of any other document of its time. That we know how minor any found variants are and that no doctrine rests upon them also lends credence to the reliability of the Scriptures. Such a narrow window drastically reduces the scope in which men could twist the words of God for their own uses.

Finally, "Gospel" does not mean "sayings of Jesus." The Gospel is the "Good News" that while we were yet sinners, God loved us so much as to send his only Son, that we might have eternal life! That message is not dependent on any "Holy Toungue," unlike say, the Qu'ran, which frankly excludes the world with its arrogance that it can only be read in Arabic. Indeed, the best evidence is that they were originally recorded in Greek (possibly Matthew was originally composed in Aramaic, but we have no evidence of that), but that it is known in every language is, for us, a reflection of its perfection.

Indeed, as Mark Twain said, "Its not the things about the Bible that scare - it's the things that I do know and don't do that make me shake in my boots."

share|improve this answer
That statement was very likely never produced by Mark Twain. What is often attributed to him is, "It ain't those parts of the Bible that I can't understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand."--but that is probably a false attribution, too. Poor Mark gets "credited" with many weak attempts at matching his unique wit and observation. – Chelonian Jun 18 '13 at 15:48
@Chelonian I have also heard: "If God cares about us then why did he make flys?" I doubt that one too. Mark Twain was much too clever for such a simple, childish statement. – fredsbend Jun 20 '13 at 18:37
@Affable Geek: I think this is not to discredit your answer, but I heard from a sermon in the local church that I attended tonight that "God so loved the world". In other words God's way of loving us was to give his son. So although it is much love to send own son to die for our sins, yet the word "so" signifies especially the way that God loved us. His love was very functional and also great( so much), because He aimed to solve the sin problem through his son. So this john.3:16 is not only about how much He loved us, but about how( in very "functional" way) he loved us if ya know what I mean. – alvoutila Mar 8 '14 at 21:37

There is no way of knowing with 100% certainty what was actually said because we have no audio recordings, and there is no one alive to verify word for word what was said. The same goes for any religious/historical text once the speaker and listeners have died.

The Gospels are not meant to be collections of sayings from Jesus; they contain sayings but that was not the point. The point of the Gospel (Greek for "Good News"), is to tell the story of Jesus to people, to recount His life and the meaning of His life to others. To think of them as a mere collection of His sayings is completely missing the point.

Matt 1:23 shows us the real reason they were written:

23 “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.”

Sure there are mis-translations in any text when they are converted from one language to another, and the Bible is no different (the same problem plagues the Quran, Torah, and Sanskrit). Some languages simply do not have all the linguistic features of other languages.

In short, no, there is not 100% complete preservation of the texts.

share|improve this answer
"mere collection of His sayings ....tell the story of Jesus" ? Are'nt the verbatim sayings of Jesus important to be preserved rather then conjuring up a nice to listen story woud'nt that be blasphemy to develop a story on Jesus without the authority of Jesus or his immediate disciples? – JesusBoughtIslam Jun 18 '13 at 8:48
Important but not the point. The point is do you want to know what He said as bits of information or do you want to know God, which is the more important part that Gospel is about. Also the story of Jesus the man does not end nice at all, the guy was executed in a brutal way. – Mr. Mr. Jun 18 '13 at 8:54

It is clear that there is little reason to doubt that the New Testament we have was really close or even exactly what what originally written.

There is a way to test the possibility of textual 'perversion' from the original texts. Historians commonly use a method called the bibliographical test. The test is quite simple and is meant to show the relative reliability, as textual preservation is concerned, to other historically accepted manuscripts. To be clear, the test is only meant to show possibility that the text of the original author was changed or not.

First, the you must choose a few manuscripts to compare. We will of course include the new testament gospels (as a whole but we could split it up but that is a lot of work). Then lets throw in Homer's Iliad, from which we gain much knowledge of ancient Greece, and the writtings of Tacitus, from which we gain much knowledge of ancient Rome.

After choosing the manuscripts we compare the earliest known manuscripts and the total number of manuscripts and the similarities between manuscripts. A more complicated version also considers where the manuscript was found, which is significant for ancient times for a number of reasons (but I am disinterested in making this answer too long simply because I will likely not get much rep from it ;)

Bibliographical test of the NT gospels and others

    Manuscript              Earliest known fragment         Earliest known complete copy           total number      Accuracy to each other
     NT                  Rylands manuscript ~100 years      codex Sinaiticus ~400 years             over 5800               99.5%
     Iliad                     ~500 years                          ~500 years                       over 1200               95%
     Tacitus                   ~800 years              None exist (a number of books are missing)   less than 10            >90%

On the exact numbers of Tacictus I am being lazy but I am sure that is about right. Check up on it in the various sources I have provided about Tacitus.

The kinds of numbers on Tacitus are typical for ancient manuscripts; The Iliad stands out in a class of its own while the New Testament stand out in a class above that. Having over 5000 manuscripts (mostly Greek) with the earliest completed copy being a mere 400 years in from the events, in addition to high accuracy, is impressive. This is a good indication that there is very little perversion in the texts. To make things better there are 10's of thousands of manuscripts from roughly the 10th century in Latin vulgate that match with the same accuracy, further, translators will tell you that they are pretty true to the Greek manuscripts as well (Ancient Church fathers were very concerned with correct translation). Also, Codex Vaticanus is significant because it is nearly complete and dates 100 years earlier than Sinaiticus. If this is not enough to trust that there is little or no perversion then I don't think anything will be for any ancient text.

There is another important thing to consider, regarding the manuscripts and authorship dates. Most scholars agree that the NT was written in this order. Epistles, synoptic gospels, Acts of the Apostles, Gospel of John, Revelation. It has been highly argued and supporting this claim right now is outside the scope of this question. Consider the following quote from a wikipedia article:

The earliest works which came to be part of the New Testament are the letters of the Apostle Paul.
[further states]
... the discovery of some New Testament manuscripts and fragments from the 2nd and 3rd centuries, one of which dates as early as 125 [I believe this particular manuscript is from John], disproves a 3rd century date of composition for any book now in the New Testament.

This quote sums up the consensus that is derived from the shear volume of manuscripts, their location found, the significance of codex Sinaiticus and Vaticanus (being complete and nearly complete NT copies), and the widely accepted order of authorship. That consensus is that none of the NT books could have been written later than the 2nd century. Combine this with the bibliographical test and it is a very compelling case to consider the narratives of the Gospel as unchanged from the authors' originals. All that might be left is determining if there was a motive to lie, but that is not your question, but can be answered and has been by many.

* For bibliographical test
* Rylands manuscript
* Codex Sinaiticus
* Codex Vaticanus
* covers Bibliographical test well although it is a biased site
* Annals of Tacitus

share|improve this answer

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.